New Venue Not New to Big Trials Bartow Prepared for Phillips Case

Article excerpt

BARTOW -- Resident Sam McBroom thinks it will be easy to seat a jury from his home county for the first-degree murder case of 15-year-old Joshua Phillips of Jacksonville.

Barbara Quick doesn't.

"The publicity will make it tough," Quick said, standing outside a shopping center Friday. "It happened in Jacksonville, but it [news of the case] still hit big here."

Phillips is accused of killing 8-year-old Maddie Clifton in November.

Circuit Court Judge Charles Arnold decided last week to move the trial, scheduled for May 17, from Jacksonville to Bartow, the Polk County seat. The judge said he thought any prospective juror in Duval County would have heard about the case because of the intense interest Maddie's disappearance sparked in the city.

But the case was not only big news in Jacksonville, it was the focus of news reports across Florida and the nation.

Maddie was first reported missing Nov. 3, sparking a weeklong search of her neighborhood. Police said the break in the case came when Phillips' mother found the girl while cleaning his room. People throughout Jacksonville assisted in the search, and every move was covered in the media.

Hundreds of people, many openly crying, stood alongside San Jose Boulevard as the hearse carrying Maddie's body to Oaklawn Cemetery passed following a memorial service.

In Bartow and the rest of the county, the news was not so saturating, residents say. Therefore, McBroom said, the Phillips case will just be the latest of many that have been moved to this small city 200 miles southwest of Jacksonville.

"There are so many that come through," he said. "It won't be a big deal because they happen all the time here."

McBroom and Quick are representative of numerous Bartow residents interviewed Friday after Arnold's decision. Some had heard of the case; some had not.

"I only know about the massacre in Colorado," said Deanie Mikell, 18 and a senior at Bartow High School. "I didn't know about that one."

Over at the Davis Bros. Motor Lodge, clerk Gloria Solomon, a resident of nearby Lakeland, shrugged her shoulders when asked what she knew about the case.

"The most I've listened to the news this year was about that stuff in Colorado," she said.

Solomon said that, even though national networks and news shows like 48 Hours plan to cover the trial, the media storm shouldn't affect the city's residents.

"This is a small, quiet community," Solomon said. "They can handle it."

A COMMUTER TOWN

For a town of only 15,000 people, Bartow appears far overdeveloped, with rows and rows of restaurants, shopping centers and other businesses lined along several thoroughfares.

That's because on weekdays, the six-lane streets are crowded with commuters, giving downtown the appearance of a bustling little city.

"During the week, all the state and county government workers stream into town," Court Administrator Nick Sudzina said. "Then they leave. It's a ghost town on the weekends."

Not only does Bartow serve as the seat of Polk County, which includes Lakeland and Winter Haven, it also is home to the regional Florida Department of Transportation office. …